By Jillian Bullock
What do MMA fighters Tim Sylvia, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Mo “King Mo” Lawal, Sean Sherk, Josh Barnett, Cris “Cyborg” Santos, and several other fighters have in common? All of them have tested positive to using illegal performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) at some time during their fighting career.
Once fighters are caught and exposed the penalties are usually being stripped of the championship belt, if they won it during the bout, fined and suspension. And if their boss is UFC President Dana White, they may be banished forever from that organization.
So why do fighters use PEDs when they know what the consequences will be if they are caught? Many say they need the drug not to give them a competitive edge, but to help them shed excess body fat, or recover faster from an injury or help raise their testosterone levels.
With all of the positive drug tests coming out lately in MMA, and in particular, the UFC, should steroids be legalized in mixed martial arts? There are mixed emotions on this topic, which has caused much debate among fighters, MMA organizations, and mixed martial arts fans.
How Does Illegal Doping Affect MMA?
With mixed martial arts struggling to gain respect among other professional sports, dealing with the negative publicity surrounding fighters and steroid use has to affect the sport, especially with organizations like the UFC. Plus, when a major fight has been scheduled, such as the championship fight that was to take place on May 26 in Las Vegas at UFC 146 between heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem, and one or both fighters test positive for PED, it causes a major problem for Zuffa and White. Now, the fight must either be cancelled all together, which costs the organization a great deal of loss revenue or a substitute fighter has to step. Taking a fight on short notice often proves disastrous for that fighter and a poor event for viewers at home and fans at the arena.
When White learned of Alistair Overeem’s failed drug test on April 3, 2012, just 30 minutes prior to a conference call he had scheduled with Canadian media, he harshly stated: “I am beyond pissed about this. I’m so (expletive) mad right now I can’t even begin… The worst part is that he sat in front of us and lied to us (referring to White and Fertitta, Zuffa owner) he was clean and would pass all drug tests.”
When asked about Overeem’s future with the UFC, White said, “It doesn’t look good.”
Bas Rutten, former UFC heavyweight champ and now co-host on HDNet’s popular “Inside MMA” series, also had some insight into this topic.
“What happened to good food, water and some supplements? That’s what I did, and I never had a problem with people being stronger or in better shape,” he said. “Listen, if you had shoulder surgery, or whatever surgery, and the doc tells you that you will heal faster, do it, but then do NOT fight! This is giving the sport a bad name.”
The Pros and Cons of This Debate
Although there is strict testing that happens in the UFC, many fighters have found a way to beat the system. Some people like, Victor Conte, believes White could do more to catch fighters who use PEDs, but that Zuffa won’t push the issue beyond what they are required because when martial artists are stronger and bigger, they can train harder, which will produce more action packed fights.
Many people may remember the influence Conte had on illegal performance enhancement drugs and professional sports. He is the man who beat the system for years as he supplied professional athletes with PEDs through his Bay-Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO). Eventually, he was caught and sent to prison. Now, he is on a mission to use his knowledge to help improve drug testing in all sports, including the MMA.
MMA fighter Rosi Sexton weighed in on this discussion when she stated, “Either test properly, or legalize it so the rest of us can get on it with a clear conscience. Enough with the hypocrisy.”
Should PEDs Be Legalized?
Some fighters believe illegal performance enhancement drugs should be legalized. This is why Quinton “Rampage” Jackson stated he used steroids. After his lost to Ryan Bader at UFC 144 this past February, Jackson admitted to Gary Alexander of “Fighters Only Magazine,” that he did indeed take testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), and he wasn’t ashamed he did. He stated, at his age and the beating his body has taken over the years as a fighter, that TRT dramatically increased his bodyweight and muscle size, improved his recovery from a knee injury, and restored his sexual prowess.
To understand Jackson’s reasoning one must understand the effect testosterone has on the body, especially a man’s body. When men get older, beginning in their 30s, their testosterone levels slowly diminish. Testosterone is vital for maintaining muscles, bone density and adequate levels of blood cells. This is important to a MMA fighter, because testosterone delivers oxygen to his body, which affects his cardio conditioning and his ability to heal after injury. With low levels of testosterone, men easily gain weight, their bones become fragile, their sex drive decreases, they can’t train as hard or as long, and they lose muscle mass. So, these elements would definitely be a problem for someone who makes his living as a fighter.
Still, some people aren’t buying it. UFC middleweight Michael Bisping and other MMA fighters feel Jackson’s use of TRT is an excuse to justify his use of steroids. Bisping’s rebuttal to Jackson’s statement, “Fighters on TRT are fucking cheats.”
However, many people feel that steroids should be made legal and this way all fighters would be on an even playing field. But what does that mean for mixed martial artists who don’t want to use performance enhancement drugs? It is a medical fact that PEDs have side affects and can cause damage to the body, e.g. shrunken testicles, mood swings, ‘roid rage, breast enlargement, acne, weaken immune system, and other health issues. In female MMA fighters, steroids can cause hair loss, deepening of the voice, unusual muscular growth, and problems conceiving children. Would legalizing steroids be fair to the fighter who doesn’t want to cause long term damage to his body just for the sake of competing against those who are using PEDs?
The debate will continue. But for now, White is in the process of finding another fighter to go up against dos Santos on May 26. And he hopes whomever he selects doesn’t fail that drug test.
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